25 November 2006

#7. Search Beyond Google

Welcome to this Internet edition of my Tool Bar & Grill, where it’s all Web, all the time. In this edition, I reveal some fascinating facts, surprising statistics, and helpful hints about Web searching.

Metasearch Engines

Most of us turn to Google by habit whenever we want to find something on the Internet – so much so that “Google” has become a synonym for “search.” But by doing so, we might be missing a lot of good information.

Since I made Copernic my default search engine a few months ago, I have seen repeated confirmation of this startling fact. Copernic is a metasearch engine, that is, one that searches through other search engines. It returns results from Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask Jeeves, and many other general and specialized search engines. Next to each result, Copernic names the search engines that provided it. The number of relevant hits that do not come from Google is shocking.

Research by Jux2, another metasearch site, shows that only fewer than four of the top ten search results in the Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask Jeeves search engines overlap. This means, for instance, that only three or four of Google’s top ten will also turn up in the first ten hits in a Yahoo search. The overlap is even lower when comparing three or four search engines to each other.

Check the example below. It shows seven results featuring my name (what? you thought I’d search on your name?) in Copernic, with no overlap at all. The three from www.elephant.org.il were returned separately by MSN, Google, and Yahoo. Two others from www.airset.com came from Google and Yahoo respectively. And the other two, from two different sites, came from MSN and Yahoo separately.

By contrast, the results shown below were each returned by two search engines and not others:

Copernic is not the only metasearch engine. I’ve also tried the Google-style Dogpile and Info, as well as the above-mentioned Jux2 – and there are many more. (All sites mentioned here end in .com.)

Yet even these search aggregators are not perfect. Strangely, most of them failed to turn up other references to my name, such as my long-ago contributions to The New York Times. Exalead found one of these, but failed to find some of the links that Copernic did. Exalead shows thumbnail previews of the result pages, which you can click through to the actual page while remaining in the Exalead frame. This should reduce the number of irrelevant pages you open before finding the desired information.

You can use these metasearch engines from their home pages on the Web. Some, including Copernic, also offer tool bars that plug in to popular browsers. Firefox and IE 7 users can add them to their search engine lists, so they’re always available without added tool bars.

Other Search Approaches

Some alternative metasearch approaches include Clusty (formerly Vivisimo) and Izito, which show result “clusters” as well as individual hits. Kartoo takes a pictorial approach, displaying metasearch results and their connections as a graphical map. It looks cool, and helps you visualize the relationships among the hits, but the hit descriptions are shorter and less useful than in other metasearch engines.

Snap and Ixquick are not real metasearch engines, but you might like them. Snap displays a large, readable preview of any listed Web page hit that you click. You can open a previewed page in the same window or in a new one. You also can rank the hits; Snap learns from your ratings to give better results next time. However, it relies primarily on only the Ask search engine. Similarly, Ixquick learns from your ratings of hits, and also ranks hits by the number of engines turning them up in their top 10. However, Ixquick apparently does not search through Google.

There is a whole universe of Web search beyond Google. Try some of these metasearch engines, and keep using the ones that suit you best. You have nothing to lose, and possibly much to gain.

New Music Discovery

And now for something completely different: For a charming, low-key hybrid of country, folk, and pop music, try out Distant Music by Adam Klein, scion of Athens, Georgia’s seminal alternative music scene. This debut acoustic album provides either thought-provoking introspection or pleasant listening, depending on your mood. You can read about the music and the artist and download a few songs for free at www.adam-klein.com. Or you can buy the album or some songs at iTunes, emusic, Rhapsody, Napster, www.athensmusic.net, and other sites. Full disclosure: Adam Klein is my nephew – but the music’s great regardless.

Thank you for your attention. Please send me your comments and suggestions. And peek back here on December 10 for more helpful hints.

This column first appeared at http://www.elephant.org.il/jonathans_tool_bar_grill.

No comments:

Post a Comment